Think dragons are awesome? Wish they were real? You're not alone there. But while the magical dragons of myth may never come to be, scientists have discovered that a real life "dragon" has some magic of its own. The blood of the Komodo dragon has antibacterial proteins that could help make super drugs to fight disease in humans.
Big size, bigger bite
The Komodo is the world's largest lizard. It can reach a size of about 3 metres (10 feet), and while that may not be dino-huge, it's still plenty large. But as much as its size, the Komodo dragon has developed a fearsome reputation for its unusually deadly bite. Unlike a snake, this animal doesn't use fangs to directly inject a venom, or poison, into its prey. Instead, the dragon has toxic saliva.
We all have saliva, too. Our bodies use it to help ease food from our mouths to the stomach. It also contains enzymes that help to break down our food. But Komodo dragon saliva goes much further. It contains around 57 different deadly bacteria. When prey is bitten, the bacteria gets into that animal's bloodstream and infects it. So even if it escapes at first, it is doomed.
Why isn't the Komodo affected?
It is an ingenious but curious adaptation. After all, animals swallow their own saliva all the time. And in the case of the Komodo, whose teeth actually cut through its gums as it feeds (gross!), that saliva is mixed up with its own blood constantly. Also, male dragons often bite each other as they battle during mating season. So why doesn't it get infected?
The secret is its blood. It is packed with cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMP). Though we, and other animals, all have these in our own blood, the CAMP in the Komodo dragon's blood is exceptionally powerful. Researchers at George Mason University used a recent study to test the dragon's blood against some of the worst strains of superbugs (or powerful dangerous bacteria) known to man. And the blood took the superbugs down without breaking a sweat. Incredible!
The future of medicine?
Why is this so exciting? For years now, scientists have been concerned that new drugs are going to be needed to fight the new superbugs of the world. We need something other than the usual antibiotics (or bacteria-fighting drugs) that are available. Though more tests need to be done, using proteins found in Komodo dragon blood is looking very promising.
Though they may be deadly in the wild, these rare animals may be turn out to be good luck, after all. Just like dragons of legend!